I tend to start well back in the pack. Started doing this long ago to avoid the high energy vacuum suck at the start. Too many times, I fell into somebody else's effort without thought, ignoring my own best interests. But now, I have more control and this is no longer the reason. Now, I do it because I'm curious to see who is here. Our trail community is one big family and I want to see who has showed up.
With 70+ family in front of me, I visit in a slow comfortable passing, until we reach the Spicewood Creek Trail. I'm sure, given the time and ingenuity, we could make all the creek crossings for the next mile without getting our shoes wet. It appears to me, most of those in front of me are attempting exactly that, as they all seem to stop and line up for the perfect rock crossing. The old trail runner in me simply changed gears, quickly shifting into 4WD and take off directly through the creek, passing people 20 at a time. There are 4 or 5 crossings and I repeat this process in the same way at each crossing. Somewhere in here, I hook up behind Richard and January til we stall behind a woman who stops all progress by stopping on a rocky outcrop with no way around. Somehow through all the chaos I end up in front of many I should be behind, but I cant help myself. Hell, I'm not even in a hurry, but I refuse to wait when there are intuitively other options.
Once I clear the creek and its crossings, I drop out of warp speed and slow to watch many of those I had passed, pass me back. No worries here. I'm good at changing gears: Rabbit to Turtle and back: fast surge, slow down, walk, and repeat. Once I had finally flushed the road-runner out of my system, the trail runner got real comfortable with adjusting to the terrain and the nuances of my body.
By Lemon Ridge, I'm once again behind Richard, January, George, and more. Lemon Ridge to Windmill is slightly rolling, if even that, but full of rock and twisted between the scrub of short stunted Cedars: Mother Natures joke, the mating of Tree and Cactus. I surf January's wake for a bit, loose here when I stop to eat, and catch her again when she stops to eat. Peter catchs me in here and decides to slow for a chat.
The main reason I gave up on road running is it hurts my hip. I assume it has something to do with repetitive motion, because it does not hurt when I run terrain that is technical or with climbs and descent. So when my hip begins to hurt, I realize how flat and easy the terrain is through here. Its 5 miles from Lemon Ridge to Windmill and another 5 miles from Windmill to Gorman. Its what many would call runnable! Its a flat and easy jeep road covered in grass that many might consider perfect, but I hate it. My hip is killing me when Chris and his entourage pass me. I hurt so bad, my hip has hiccups, and I'm surprised Peter remains with me.
The sky is all diffused light and mist, and with no wind, just hanging in place. The front of my shirt and shorts are soaking wet, the backside dry. At least the trail has finally turned more to my liking: downward and extremely rocky, which gets me rolling once again. Also, the mist appears to be getting denser and more wet. The clouds, wet with rain have come down to us.
The Overlook is one of many out-n-backs: a wooden deck overhanging the Colorado River. The dynamic setting is well worth seeing, muddy river well beneath high walls, encased in heavy mist. It was a drop-in, so we have to climb out, but this is not nearly as drastic or dangerous as the drop-in at Gorman Falls. Its really a cool place, but the wet rocks and cables made this little out-n-back a bit too much. The next out-n-back is the Conference Center where I have a drop bag with replacement nutrition. I have only been carrying a single water bottle with pocket, where I keep coconut bars and tailwind packets, and this is where I replace all the empties.
The next section is a new trail and namesake for the race: The Tinajas Trail which loops around a good sized canyon and oasis. It rolls upward for a few miles followed by a long and fun descent where I seem to break out of my hip problems. I tell Peter, I think I'm going to run, shift gears again and get after it: running. I think I'm as surprised as Peter. I've been yoyo-ing with January all day and continue to do so here. I catch her, she drops me, I catch her, she drops me, and then on the long downhills, I pass her, and repeat.
Back at the Conference Center after yet another out-n-back. Fumi catches us and rolls out with January, down the River Trail. Its a wide bench, but the actual dirt track is narrow and with the rain now coming full on, its slippery. To increase the entertainment value, the entire bench is canted just a bit towards the river, which makes us run a tad bit sideways to avoid spinning out and down to the river. Its not big deal: something for us to laugh at.
Midway to the Cedar Chopper turn, we reach a ditch and a ledge where a large group of people are gathered. Many are in big camping backpacks, while others are just out hiking. There seems to be some sort of order to the ledge crossing, and a woman squacks at me as I simply plow thru with Peter in tow, onto the ledge, across, and gone. Peter's laughing and I ask why. He says, the woman seemed rather offended at me. The bull in the china store is best removed quickly, so I did.
I'm just starting to whine again about the long flat river trail when we finally reach the turn up and into my preferred playground. The rain is coming on good and solid now. The ground is all mud, rocks covered in mud too, and for the first time today, I am RUNNING uphill. I see Richard for the first time in a while, and many others too. This is the longest out-n-back, so it makes sense I should see so many as we pass each other. Cedar Chopper is the aid at the end of this out-n-back where we sign in and start back down, directly behind January.
A few minutes in, I ask to pass, so she steps aside. I tell he I am felling my mojo and need to go with it. We keep running, careful not to slide out on the mud covered rocks in the constant rain. I've been in a short-sleeved shirt all day and its been soaking wet for awhile. I feel a hotspot in the right armpit where the wet sleeve is schafing my skin and not sure what to do about it. As I'm telling Peter about it, I realize I have a tube of Aquaphor in my back pocket. I empty the tube and smear it on the offended skin with instant relief. Its not long before the spot begins to burn again. My wet shirt is simply wiping away the lube. The only thing I can think to do is to remove the sleeve, so I roll it up and tick the sleeve into my shirt, ala James Dean. Must look hilarious, but it resolves the problem.
Almost back down to the river trail, I cross paths with Ryan, who had missed a turn and added a few miles. More flat river trail, oh boy! The final turn up Lemon Ridge trail, Peter and I compare GPS readings, wondering which one is more close to the truth, and find when we reach the Lemon Ridge aid station, mine is dead on the posted measurements, so we have a bit under 3 miles to done.
The final out-n-back is the dual-Spicewood Springs Trail. About a mile in, we take the non-creekcrossing route back, which is just about the creek we went up earlier today. Its a beautiful view of the creek and canyon, and a pleasure to hear the water running under us. I start getting a bit antsy, pushing harder than I had all day, before I remember to back off and relax. There is no hurry, and has been none all day. I have simply run well when I felt it, and backed down when I felt the need to. All day, I never felt rushed or hurried, never really pushed, but certainly struggled at times, especially up in the flats around Windmill. Even with the rain, I was never cold, and my stomach held up with just Tailwind and coconut. I do suspect my feet may have taken some damage in the wet socks and slippery rocks. All in all, it has been a superior day to run, and likely my last good running day until next winter when it cools again.
We finish together, Peter and I, about midway between Richard and January, and hoping Ryan would be ok for another loop in the mud and the rain.